Today, Congressman Ralph Hall (D-TX), Ranking Member on the Committee, offered an amendment to the NASA funding bill (H.R. 2861, the VA-HUD-Independent Agencies Appropriations Act for 2004) that will force NASA to conduct studies of how to improve crew survivability for Space Shuttle astronauts. The amendment was adopted by voice vote.
Hall noted that, "The sad reality is that seventeen years after the Space Shuttle Challenger accident, the loss of a Space Shuttle still means that almost inevitably we will lose that shuttle crew. I don't think that is right, and I don't believe it has to be that way." Hall went on to cite the record from NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. That panel has been challenging the Agency to address the issue of crew survivability head on-something senior NASA management has been hesitant to do. Hall's amendment moved $15 million from the still unallocated funds in the FY2004 Shuttle Life Extension Program for the purpose of funding concept studies on how to design, install and fly with a system in place that would enhance crew survivability.
Hall said, "I think that if we are going to fly the Shuttle for an extended period... then NASA needs to develop and install a crew escape system on the remaining orbiters in the Space Shuttle fleet as soon as practicable."
"Now I know that some at NASA would argue that (survivability enhancements) can't be done at a reasonable cost or without a negative impact on Shuttle performance," continued Hall. "My reply is that I don't believe that the combined talents of the aerospace industry and NASA aren't capable of rising to the challenge of developing a viable crew escape system and dramatically improving the chances for crew survivability.... I intend to keep pressing for the development of a capable Space Shuttle crew escape system if the nation decides to continue flying the Shuttle."
The VA-HUD Appropriations bill now awaits action by the Senate.